Sunday, May 24, 2009

Jas-Want to take hills on hope rideAnand Soondas Thursday April 30, 2009, Times of India

In most parts of Darjeeling, the Nepalis there either don’t know who BJP candidate Jaswant Singh is or don’t care about him. This time, though, as a farcical campaign comes to an end and the local people line up at the polling booths, an overwhelming majority will vote for him – all in the belief that the "party with the lotus symbol’’ will help create Gorkhaland if it comes to power at the Center.
Hoisted by a completely foolish Gorkha Janmukti Morcha think-tank and it’s equally at-sea leader Bimal Gurung, who would have been far better off nominating a local candidate for the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat, a sure-shot win for it especially after the fall of maverick leader Subhash Ghising and the marginalisation of his Gorkha National Liberation Front, Jaswant’s entire campaign was pitched to convey the sense to a gullible mountain population that this is the man for the long cherished dream of Gorkhaland, a separate homeland away from West Bengal.
But unknown to them, BJP party president Rajnath Singh in an exclusive to an English daily coming out from Chandigarh has now cleared the air and "denied any commitment to Gorkhaland." He has been quoted saying, "We have not talked of separate Gorkhaland. We have only said we will consider all the provisions of the GJM’s demands. We will examine them."
This is crucial, coming as it does on the eve of voting, because Gurung has been going around asking votes in the name of Gorkhaland. Just how e ffective or sincere will a leader from Rajasthan who's in Darjeeling only because an impressionable local outfit assured him a safe seat is anybody’s guess. In election rallies in the hills, Jaswant and Gurung have been shouting from the rooftops that the BJP will support the creation of Gorkhaland if and when it hogs power, a not-too-bright possibility in itself.
There are very few who know that the former external affairs minister took the trek from the deserts of Rajasthan to the hills of Darjeeling because his party could not nail a safe seat for him anywhere else in the country. Though he did campaign for his son Manvendra Singh, who's seeking reelection from Barmer, even getting into a bit of a spot after TV footages showed his distributing money to supporters, it's an open secret that he doesn't top the popularity chart among his own people. He had, after all, lost the 1998 Lok Sabha elections from Chittorgarh by over 25,000 votes.
Jaswant also impressed upon innocent minds that the BJP had been instrumental in the creation of Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh, thereby implying that it will be in a position to extend the same favour to the Nepalis or Gorkhas as many of them prefer to be called. Of course, no one thought it pertinent to point out all the three states mentioned are much larger, more revenue-worthy and important in the national scheme of things, with 5, 8 and 11 Parliamentary constituencies, than poor, little Darjeeling with one Lok Sabha seat and three Assembly seats. To be brutally honest, the BJP will have very little stake in the uplift of Darjeeling, let alone turning it into a separate state. And history is witness to just how efficient and committed nominees from outside have been in the constituencies they have adopted. Few go native in the real sense. Take former Darjeeling MP and outsider Inderjit Khullar for example.
Apart from the duplicity of the whole thing, there are a couple of other issues that are disturbing in all this. The absence of a truly independent local media hasn’t helped matters. No one gets to know what editors and journalists really feel as they still fear khukri-brandishing goons who threaten and even physically harm mediapersons at the remotest hint of a conflicting point of view, however sane that may be. Not much has changed on this front from the time of Ghising. The other is the crushing crisis of leadership. Many young, smart and dynamic people have left the hills in search of greener pastures, leaving the mountains with leaders who neither have much of an education, exposure to the outside world, nor foresight and a clear stream of thought. It’s like Gurung and his men changing number plates of cars in Darjeeling that have a valid Bengal registration. (Drivers and passengers were given a tough time by the Bengal police the moment they stepped out of the peripheries of Darjeeling.) Unable to convince either Delhi or Kolkata about their genuine demands and grievances they return from frequents trips to the state and national capital only to spread more falsehood and artificial cheer, trapping all into voting for rank outsiders like Jaswant Singh or Khullar, the latter doing precious little for the people who sent him to Parliament with a thumping victory.
Till such time as Darjeeling gets an honest, dedicated, intelligent – and local – leader to talk about the problems heaped upon its unfortunate people, the hills will have to somehow fend off poverty, unemployment, pollution, despair and degradation on its own.

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